Background: The role of human papilloma virus (HPV) in the pathogenesis and biological behavior of tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma (TSCC) are areas of intense investigation.
Methods: This study used PCR analysis to identify HPV in paraffin-embedded tonsillar and nodal tissue from 52 patients with TSCC and 48 age (+/-5 year)/gender-matched controls with benign tonsillar hyperplasia. Results were correlated with HLA-DRB1 haplotype and clinical outcome.
Results: HPV was identified in 46% of patients with TSCC and 6% of controls. DNA sequencing showed the presence of HPV type 16 in 21 patients (40%) with TSCC. There was no statistically significant association between HLA-DRB1 expression and TSCC or HPV infection. Fifteen of 16 patients with HPV-positive TSCC with regional metastases had evidence of HPV in pathologically involved lymph nodes. In eight HPV 16-positive TSCC patients with lymph node metastasis, PCR testing identified HPV 16 in 17 of 23 histologically negative lymph nodes. Patients with HPV-positive TSCC without metastatic disease had no evidence of HPV in their lymphatic tissue. Clinically, HPV-associated carcinoma was present in younger patients in comparison with HPV-negative TSCC patients (mean age, 56.6 versus 66 years; P = 0.001). The odds for patients with HPV infection to develop TSCC were 18.2 times greater than for patients without HPV infection (95% confidence interval 4.6, 73.1). There was no statistically significant association between presence of HPV and cause-specific survival (hazard ratio = 2.5 for HPV negative versus positive; P = 0.26), after adjusting for age in a Cox proportional hazards regression analysis.
Conclusion: HPV is an independent risk factor for TSCC. Identification of HPV in the histologically positive and negative lymph nodes of patients with HPV-positive TSCC/metastatic disease supports the role of HPV in the oncogenesis of TSCC.